By Andrew Brady I’ve just spent six nights in Athens to gather momentum for our new international trade union project ‘Union Solidarity International’. The focus of our activities is our ‘Solidarity with Greece’ campaign with trade unions and community …

Walton Pantland

By Andrew Brady

I’ve just spent six nights in Athens to gather momentum for our new international trade union project ‘Union Solidarity International’. The focus of our activities is our ‘Solidarity with Greece’ campaign with trade unions and community networks. Everyone has a life-changing trip and this was mine.

Is it right to ask the question what relevance is the Robin Hood Tax to the situation in Greece? The truth is it has absolutely everything to do with spiralling out of control political, economic and social conditions.

To give you just a flavour of the human toll Greece’s jobless rate hit a new record in February. Data from Greece’s statistics service on Thursday (17 May) showed unemployment hit 21.7 percent in February. In the 15-24 age group it rose to 54 percent. The data showed nearly 1.1 million people were jobless, 42 percent more than in the same month a year ago, reflecting the huge scale of the human damage.

The true scale of unemployment and underemployment is higher. The country’s economy continues to contract for a fifth consecutive year. I have written more extensively about the social crisis that is engulfing Greece as a result of the financial turmoil facing the country.

There are, of course, a number of reasons why Greece finds itself in the position it is in but the principal reason is hopelessly misguided financial engineering, bad loans and the financialization of the world economy.

I met a number of trade unions and working people who work in the finance and banking sector in Greece – banks despite the myths peddled – that were profitable before and after the financial crash of 2007 onwards. Yet, in order to bail out private sector and foreign financial institutions that made bad investments in Greece, and elsewhere, the once profitable and healthy Greek banks are paying the price. It is they who are bearing the burden. In all likelihood as a result of being forced to take on bad debts to bail out foreign financial institutions – and what State support that is left being cut to shreds – thousands of workers will be made redundant.

At the peak it was estimated that Britain’s banks had a combined exposure of £100bn to Greece, Portugal and Spain. German banks are estimated to have €24bn of exposure to Greece while French banks had €37bn. The primary reason why the Greek saga has played out so long – and there is still some way to go – is that European financial institutions have been frantically scrambling over the last two years to recapitalize their balance sheets.

It is the financial institutions of our world that are primarily responsible for the turmoil we now find ourselves in – and as ever the people pay the price while the banks collect their cash!

What has been one of the most staggering episodes so far in this Greek tragedy is that in order to finance the debt re-payments the Greek Government has agreed to appoint international advisers to roll-out a €50bn privatisation programme. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is also chairman of the Eurogroup of euro-zone finance ministers, said that Greece should set up an agency to privatise state assets along the lines of the German institution that sold off East German enterprises in the 1990s.

It would be naive to say there are easy ways out of the current situation but it need not be like this and things can be done! The Robin Hood Tax is simple, popular but also critical to a healthy and stable world economy. It is one of a series of measures that are required to assist in this process – and our efforts in Greece and beyond to ensure this is implemented are now taking a critical turn.

 


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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